tv Public Affairs CSPAN March 24, 2013 10:20pm-11:00pm EDT
woodrow wilson. 100 years later, the press conference is a staple of covering the white house. this moment from 1964. cbs' dan rather and president nixon. >> we are going to make progress in the economic and political fields. mr. president -- thank you, mr. president. an rather with cbs news. mr. president -- mr. president -- >> are you running for something? [laughter] >> no, mr. president. are you? mr. president, i believe earlier -- >> from march 1974. joining us here at the table is
cbs' bill plante. thank you very much for stopping by. you've been covering every president since ronald reagan and wissed -- witnessed a lot of these occasions where reporters try to get something from the president. how have these evolved over the years? >> as you referenced. it was almost accidental. wilson thought he was sort -- simply meeting the reporters one by one, but when 100 or more pushed into the oval office, he addressed them. and then there were more that couldn't make it that day, a week later he did it again in the east room. that became the form. the first 60 years or more, there was a back and forth but it was understood that it was off the record unless a president allowed the quote.
and truman and eisenhower and f.d.r. could get reporters to alter their quotes if they didn't like what they had said, sort of fix it up. the modern news conference really began with eisenhower, at least the telvized part. question?kes a good i know the answer may depend on o the president is, but what are you looking for and how do you frame your questions? >> you want to ask a -- ask a question straightforward enough that you can get an answer. if it comes in several parts, the president can always answer one part but not another. and in any case, any politician has learned by the time he gets to be president how to answer whatever he wants to answer rather than the question that was asked. so you try to frame a question that is straightforward and simple that doesn't have any are you looking possibility of going off in some other direction.
>> we're going to look at some half-moments including some questions you posed to president obama and president reagan. just this past weekend, chuck todd with a series of questions to president obama as the president continued his trip through the middle east. here's how that event unfoldeded. >> thank you, president. want to follow up on the peace process. you began your first tearm did, term, big fan fare, cairo speech to talk to the muscle world, the decision to have a middle east envoy early, you said you weren't going to have this slip to your second term with the middle east peace process. what went wrong? why are we further away from a two-state solution? world, the what do you believe went wong -- wrong? did you push israel too hard? what do you wish you had done differently? and mr. prime minister i want
to help my colleague over here with the follow-up he had, do you accept the president's understanding that iran is a year away when it comes to nuclear weapons and another question for you -- >> how many? you say you get one question and -- you see how the young lady from channel one, she had one question. very -- she was very well behaved, chuck. >> these are perm uted questions. >> i had four questions. leftovers from a couple days. i get four queas -- questions. >> look, this is not a kosher question, but don't hog it. [laughter] >> bill, what is going on there in >> this is exactly the kind of pitfall i was talking with earlier. chuck trying to do a follow-up on an answer that had come before, which was at best inconclusive, probably the way they intended it to be.
then he had a question of his own and also a question for the prime minister. but you see what happens? it allows the two principles -- principals in that case to get off the case, change the subject and not answer the question asked. no criticism, he's a good friend, but he should have probably stuck to one question each. and let me just say that that setup where they have the president and a foreign leader, in this case our president was the guest, but those kinds of news conferences don't produce very much because they're usual -- there are usually only two questions per side, so you don't get a wide-ranging exchange when that happens. >> and you often have translations. > which slows things down. >> and a frequent person inside the white house believe -- briefing room, martha has written a book, "the messaging
the president, inside the hite house briefing room," glad to have you with us. >> thank you. >> let's talk about how all this evolved. the first conference was a certainly inauspicious occasion but it's certainly evolved over the last 100 years. >> it did. and the following week woodrow wilson had reporters then come into the east room where he talked to them about what his relationship was going to be with reporters, how he needed them. he wanted them to worg in partnership with him to bring information to the public. also he thought that reporters from around the country could i form him -- inform him about what was going on. but he set the rules that it would be off the record and it also would be a tran subscribed
-- trance cribed session so it also was going to be a formal statement by him of his policies, so we have those transcripts from that time forward. >> bill, how did these live televised press conferences changes things? >> it changed everything the first of all, kennedy was very good, at this time -- witty, very adept at being clever about the questions, making the reporters laughed and everybody loved it but what happened in practice was that televising the news -- news conferences cut down on the number consider blifment as marthsa can tell you, calvin coolidge had hundreds of press vablets. i think, was it 600 martha? >> 531 i think it was. >> ok. so you talk to the president 531 times in four years -- >> 521, sorry.
>> how many times has president obama had a solo news conference in four years? 29. according to our mark noel ar, who keeps all the records. now, that's a solo news conference. the white house will come back and say he's had several appearances, meaning he's sat down with an individual reporter or he has appeared with a foreign leader or answered questions in the oval office. but we're talking about news conferences, closely defined. >> and this is with president ronald reagan, who moved news conferences to prime time the networks of course carrying them in the evening. here he is posing a question or president reagan. >> mr. president, you've said several times recently that the accusation that bothered you most is that you don't care about the poor and disadvantaged. >> well, this is the thing,
bill, that we've been trying to correct. it was really precable. cable was in its infancy. >> president reagan had 2/3 of his news conferences in prime time. why? in order to reach over the the press and directly to the public because it was a pretty good bet in those days that the -- a significant amount of the viewing audience would have to watch the news conference because it was carried on all three networks. you could be watching wgn or the super station in atlanta for and -- an old movie maybe but the press -- president was goings to get a lot of viewers. reagan told me in 1981 we're going the press and to go over the public directly.
they tried to do that. it was much easier because back then before cable and social media we and the numbers, cable services, set agenda. we no longer do. >> and your back, managing the president's message, we're also in the age of twitter, facebook, and how is all that changing the way this white house and future white houses deliver their message? >> well, they're >> they are certainly concerned with it. social media was very important for the election. it remains to be seen how it will hit into governing. they have not been able to make it work for them, for governing. but every president in a modern period has wanted to go around the white house press corps. in the eisenhower
administration, when they made their press conference transcripts on the record in 1953 and on television in 1955, the press secretary was interested in getting things out directly. in one of his diary entries he said, we will go directly to the people. that has repeated itself from one administration to the next. the white house press corps continues to be important because those are the people on the ground writing about what it is the president is doing about the policies that he is initiating and what is going on within the white house. that information spreads. you can have something like the huffington post that will be pushing up articles that are in the new york times. i would be wary in thinking i could simply go around them as the white house press corps is irrelevant.
it remains relevant. guest: they have more tools than they ever did before. the white house has its own tv releases on the white house channel on the internet, on whitehouse.gov. what they show there are things we do not have access to. it is their own state-run media. guest: it then falls to the white house press corps to push back on that through the correspondents association. there are situations where they put of video streaming and cannot allow television in at the same time. host: when the white house issues a photograph of the president in any setting, but it is only a white house photo, are news organizations becoming reluctant to use the photo?
guest: it is quite the opposite. so many newspapers are in financial difficulties that they have decided to start picking up those photos on flickr. what you see on those flickr pictures is a view that the white house photographer is there to photograph the president, not the presidency and not what is happening in the white house, but solely the president. that really limits but the public knows. host: martha joynt kumar, thanks for sharing your insights with us and for pointing out this 100th anniversary of presidential press conferences.
guest: when the white house chooses a photograph, if flatters the president. if photographers were allowed into the same event, they might capture something that is slightly offbeat or a different moment or a different look. as long as we do not have the same access, it is state media. they can put up their own material. the first amendment applies equally to them as it does to everybody in this country. if they deny us access and put out their own material, that is different. host: there is a collaborative effort between print and broadcast and radio and television in getting information to the press corps. the pool reported the president came back on air force one as he returned from the middle east.
that is a rare occasion. guest: it is. it does not happen often. it is considered off of the record. what that means is that you can not report anything that the president said. you can report that the president came back and talked to reporters, but there are only a handful of reporters on air force one. they will generally pass on the substance of the president's remarks to the rest of the press corps in a limited way. eventually, it all leaks out anyway. that is another story. host: we have a former reporter who is now white house press secretary. does that help or hinder his job as press secretary to president obama? guest: he serves the president first before he serves the press. he knows how we work.
he knows how we think. he has been in our shoes following other presidents. that is helpful to him and the white house. maybe not quite as helpful to us. host: we are focusing on 100 years of presidential news conferences. barbara, good morning. caller: several weeks ago, there was the comment that the white house press corps hates the president. is that reflected in your reporting? also, did you feel chuck todd's behavior at the press conference with netanyahu reflected well on the white house press corps? guest: there is a natural antagonism toward the white house, in general.not toward the
president in particular. we are trying to get information they do not want us to have. we are not there to be a mouthpiece for any administration. we are not on the team. that is the important point. we are there to try, to the best of our ability, to get information out to you. if you happen to like this president, we are probably not doing our job in your opinion. if you do not like the president, we are still not doing our job because we are not tough enough. as far as chuck todd's performance, we try to get the best opportunity to ask questions. in that setting, it did not work because he was tripped up by the two people he was questioning. host: you can send us an e-mail or join us on our facebook page or send us a tweet.
we will take you back to july of 2007 as president bush reopened the refurbished white house briefing room and had this to say about the white house press corps. [video clip] >> why don't you all yell simultaneously? [laughter] really loudly. that way, you might get noticed. i will listen, internalize, play like i will answer the question, and then smile as you and say thanks. thanks for such a solid, sound question. i will cut the ribbon. and then you yell.
i cogitate. then i smile and wave. [laughter] host: bill plante. guest: he had a playful moment, but he was getting as something that was true. they all try to get the attention of the president. he can choose to call on someone or choose not to answer. it is in his hands. that used to be the norm for news conferences. somewhere around the reagan era, it got very sedate. people waited to be called on. the president has a list already prepared of the reporters on whom he is going to call.
it is hard to get recognized. president reagan once recognized sarah mcclendon, a venerable reporter from texas, a woman who did not take no for an answer. he said, ok, i would take one from you. she said, the folks at the army depot in texas are robbing the people blind. what are you going to do about it? the president said, i will have them look into it. host: he often would leave the south lawn of the white house with marine one. yet he rarely took questions that he could hear. host: if we yelled at him, he would come over. he wanted to answer the question. he always thought he could answer the question. the staff did not want him to do that after he was elected
president.they moved him further away. he was hard of hearing. every once in a while, he would walk out and he would stop with that practiced grace and he would turn his head and say, well, i do not know. they have not told me yet. then he would grant and what on. -- grin and walk on. host: we have a question on the democrats' line. caller: i am wondering about bradley manning today. on facebook, we see this picture of president bush next to bradley manning and the caption is, bradley manning is forgotten and locked up and bush, who started the war, is walking around free.
what is the press doing about that? guest: the press is covering the trial of bradley manning. he remains in custody. the trial is getting a lot of press coverage. host: when you started covering the white house in the reagan era, cbs news dominated where people got their news. it has changed over the years. has it changed the way you are doing your job? guest: we try to cover the news on a daily basis for the morning and evening news cycles. we do make use of social media. we put everything we get on the web as fast as we can. we do not hold back any more. in 1981, when i started covering the white house, we saved our best material for the evening news. we cannot do that anymore
because we have lots of competition on cable and on the internet. whenever we get those out right away. host: i have to ask you about your colleagues, mark knoller. anytime they want official information about how often the president has been on a campaign event, they turned to him. explain the process he goes through in keeping track of the president's movements. guest: he has covered the white house since the ford administration. he decided that the beginning of the clinton administration that he needed to keep track of the statistics about the president's movements and the number of times he played golf, the number of fund raisers he has had and how much money has raised, just about anything you can imagine. he does this by stating the logs every day. he remains there until 8 or 9 every night. he has the most complete record is that exists. if the white house has a question about a number, they
will see what his number is. he is meticulous and we are thankful -- they will see what his number is. caller: thanks for taking my call. my question is how much opinion from the different main media sources becomes confused as news. i would like to hear your opinion about fox news. it is apparent to most independent and open minded people that not only are their stories skewed to the right, they are talking points and almost every issue is turned into a scandal, is turned into more reasons to disrespect the president. i appreciate the media
challenging the white house on everything, but i would like to get your opinion on where you think fox news is leading the media. also, address how the rest of the media seems to defend them from time to time. jake tapper referred to them as a sister news network. you will not hear that on fox news. all you hear about mainstream media and how you cannot trust someunless they are citing story they want to play up. i would like to hear your opinion and how you feel it has changed. guest: fox news does skew right. they do that primarily in their talk shows. and they do it for a reason. there is an audience they want to capture. it is not an accident that they have found a niche that they thought was underserved.
in their news coverage, fox news is fair and professional. nbc does must the same thing on the left. they are after an audience. it is a commercial decision. host: there was a comment by longtime press secretary when he was asked about the number of press conferences president bush 41 had, and he pointed out, look where that got him. having a lot of these news conferences does not necessarily help the president. guest: that is the prevailing view in most white houses. if you put the president up there taking questions by himself for 45 minutes, you do not know what is coming. the potential for messing it up a little bit is always there. they do not like that. they cannot control it. as i said earlier, the number of news conferences dwindled from
administration to administration. the last two administrations have held few solo news the reason is, it's an uncontrolled situation, even though they do practice. the most common question that we get that i have gotten from people is, do you submit your questions in advance? the answer is absolutely not. white house staff can generally figure out what questions we are going to ask. we will ask the questions that are on the news topics of the day, about any lingering scandals and investigations. it is pretty easy. host: let me ask you about your most memorable moment. you can think about that for a moment. we want to welcome on our audience on c-span radio. we are focusing on one end years -- 100 years
of presidential news conferences beginning in formally beginning in 1913. we have paul on the line. good morning. caller: my question is, do you all think it is helpful when this administration and by its local reporters from across the country to do interviews or do you look upon that with the stain?-- disdain? guest: i do not disdain it at all. it is not helpful to the process. it is another way for the white house to get the president out
there, have him seen by a lot of people, particularly markets. if you look at and use their traditionally in key congressional districts. they credit the local members of congress to try to change something, to vote a certain way. it is all very carefully egrudge theo not bn local reporters. i do not think the white house should crow about how much media experience the president has given. when it gets not so much to the rest of us. host: from louisville, kentucky, good morning. caller: i am generally curious as to what happens in an off the record conversation. what does that mean his starkly? -- historically? what does it mean now? host: good question. guest: that is a great question. and off the record conversation by definition is one which you can chat informally with the president or a member of congress and you can use what
you have learned to inform your own reporting. but you cannot quote him and you cannot say that you talked to him. in other words it has never happened except that you know more in the end. it saves person you are interviewing from any possible embarrassment or for people being able to say -- it completely protects him.we like to insist that things be on the record. but sometimes sources won't allow it. you take what you can get. >> have you counted the number of countries you have traveled to? guest: about 120. host: one of the questions you posed to president obama on the affordable care act, syria's bill plante.-- here is bill
plante. >> thank you mr. president. anybody on capitol hill will say that there is no chance that the american jobs act in its current state passes either house. you have been out on the campaign trail baying away to pass this bill. it begins to look like you're campaigning and following the harry truman model against the do-nothing congress instead of negotiating. are you negotiating? >> i am open to negotiations. what is also true is they need to do something. the question then is will congress do something? if congress does something, i cannot run against a do-nothing congress. if congress does nothing, then it is not a matter of me running against them. the american people will run them out of town. host: did he answer your question? guest: no, he turned to his advantage.
the question really was is there any point in continuing to talk about the american jobs act if in fact it is not going to pass, which everyone agrees it would not. this is a campaign ploy. he turned it around and made the same argument that he is making on the trail, saying that if they would do something that it could pass. host: let us go to donna in indiana. good morning. caller: the president's white house is more transparent than the past presidencies or is as transparent as he campaigns that -- campaigned that it would be. host: the other part of that question is how you measure transparency? guest: i'm glad you brought that up. they came into office saying we are calling to be the most transparent white house ever. they are no more transparent than any other white house because it does not suit them to
be. they will cite all kinds of erviews,cs.how many int and so forth. as discussed earlier, that is not really the point. it is about explaining the process of making decisions. which they do not do very well. it does not serve their own interest to do it. i understand why. the claim of transparency is un- fiveble.host: covering presidents, your most memorable moment? guest: privately, it is off the record with presidents reagan, bush 43, and obama. there is no denying that the opportunity to talk informally with the president is a very special thing.
you come away having learned something about the person or about his policies. publicly, i have made a spectacle of myself so many times for better and worse.it is hard to say. host: let me share one moment in april of 1988, president ronald reagan. >> george bush is doing well. he has been a wonderful vice president. but nobody is perfect. i might put them in charge of anti-terrorism and the maclaughlin group is still on the air. but with so much focus on the presidential election i have been feeling a little lonely these days. i am so desperate for attention i almost considered holding a news conference.
[laughter] host: as we watch that, was there a private ronald reagan? was he different off-camera than on the stage? guest: he really wasn't. you got the same stories about life in hollywood or california politics that you often got in public. he was in fact a very private man. but he was always cordial, always very pleasant. host: did he enjoy news conferences? host: did he enjoy news conferences? guest: i do not think he enjoyed them. he was adept at dealing with them, but i do not think he enjoyed them. host: you went to cover the candidates and the administration.
did john kennedy enjoy news conferences? guest: i think he did. i believe he was ready for whenever reporters could throw at them and could disarm them with humor. host: let us go to allen in ohio. good morning. caller: i wanted to ask about -- what was its relationship to the clear conditions and advising woodrow wilson at the time of that first news conference? i am reminded that wilson got the u.s. involved in world war i and it was the first four in which mobilization of the public was manipulated by propaganda. i want to read the first paragraph on propaganda. he says the conscious of intelligent manipulation of the organized habits of opinions of the masses is an important element. those constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. contrary to what your guest from university says, we are not
getting more information from the public. we are manipulating the public more.host: let me go back to her earlier point as to how this all came about. the first news conference in 1913 was an auspicious occasion -- an inauspicious occasion for president woodrow wilson. he is asked a question from "the new york evening post," and he responded politely and in the fewest possible words. guest: let us go down to her point about manipulating the presidents are trying to do this in every public utterance. it depends on your view of the public, whether you believe the public can be manipulated like a lump of clay.
he wrote those words 100 years ago when society and academia believed that the public was easy to manipulate. it is no longer true if it ever was. there are too many sources of information. there is no one source. if all you have is state-run media, say north korea, then you're not going to believe everything you hear. in this country, certainly in modern times, there has been a plethora of voices and you did not have to rely on any one of them. that is a good thing. [captioning performed bynational captioning institute] [captions copyright nationalcable satellite corp. 2013] michael steele talks about the future of the republican party. of the taxman, director george mason university center for advancing excellence, looks
at the cost and effectiveness of the justice department halfway house program. "washington journal," live on c- span. " with dr. francis collins. commons. house of then george osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, talks about the british budget. >> monday night, on "first ladies," called a bigamist and adulterer during her husband's campaign, rachel jackson dies of an apparent heart attack before andrew jackson takes office. his niece becomes white house hostess, but is later dismissed as followed from a scandal. later, angelico ben-gurion is hostfo